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Michigan State University Holding Vigil For Mass Shooting Victims; Pence Says, Fighting Trump Probe Subpoena Over Separation Of Powers; Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) Holds 2024 Presidential Campaign Kickoff Rally; Search And Rescue Underway As Quake Survivors Still Being Found; Buffalo Supermarket Shooter Sentenced To Life In Prison, No Parole. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 15, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a tribute to the three students killed in the shooting rampage at Michigan State University as police are still trying to piece together the gunman's motive. This hour, I'll ask the Michigan attorney general about the many unanswered questions in this investigation.

Also today, former Vice President Mike Pence is speaking out for the first time about his plans to fight a new subpoena from the U.S. Justice Department. He's arguing that his effort to avoid testifying in the special counsel probe of Donald Trump is about the separation of powers.

And Republican Nikki Haley holds a rally to kick off her 2024 presidential campaign. She says it's time for new generation of leaders, taking direct jabs at President Biden and veils swiped at former President Trump.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with tonight's vigil for the victims of the Michigan State University mass shooting. The pain and grief still very raw two days after the attack.

CNN Senior National Correspondent Miguel Marquez is on the scene for us there. Miguel, tell us more about this vigil and those three students who lost their lives.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is just about to get underway. We're on the campus here at MSU, and literally thousands of students and faculty members and staff have showed up here. I want to show you a little bit of the scene. People have gotten down on one knee, as they get ready to start this vigil. They are going to hear from several people. They're going to hear some music here tonight, as well. All of these as authorities are still trying to figure out if there is a motive for this heinous act.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The community will never be the same.

MARQUEZ (voice over): Michigan State University students, Spartans, rallied at the state capitol for gun laws to prevent more mass shootings.

SIERRA WATTS, TRANSFERRED FROM MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: I'm just very shaken up about it and I can't even imagine what they went through. So, I'm just here to support everybody that went through it what they did.

MARQUEZ: How tough is it to sort of process what's happened there?

KOSTA SARINOPOULOS, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY SENIOR: I still am, I don't know, it's hard. You never think it's going to happen to you, but then it does.

MARQUEZ: The sense of anger here palpable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one should have to live through this.

MARQUEZ: Also a sense that maybe, just maybe, the tide for meaningful gun reform laws could be changing.

STEPHANIE HICKEY, POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCHER, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: Look, our community is just trying to band together and support one another and hopefully we can make a change here.

MARQUEZ: The dead just starting out in life, 19-year-old Arielle Anderson, who wanted to be a pediatrician, Alexandria Verner, a junior, described as a perfect student who loved sports, Brian Fraser, a sophomore, was president of his fraternity.

JACK SHANNON, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FRESHMAN: I'm sad, I'm devastated at, you know, what's happened and I'm wishing nothing but the best for those recovering in the hospital right now.

MARQUEZ: One of the five critically injured, Guadalupe Huapilla- Perez, the daughter of farm workers, a junior studying in the hospitality business, a GoFundMe page has been set up to support what is expected to be a long recovery.

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): I really think that the elected officials who are refusing to talk about this are just -- they have got -- they're out of touch. They haven't realized that from Oxford and Uvalde and now this that the average gun owner Michigan, the average person who feels strongly about their Second Amendment rights also feels strongly about keeping their babies safe in school.

MARQUEZ: Still unclear if the two handguns found on the shooter, who took his own life, were purchased legally. In 2019, he was charged with a felony for carrying a concealed weapon. He plead guilty to a misdemeanor and serve probation until May 2021. A law enforcement source tells CNN the gunman purchased the two guns that same year.


MARQUEZ (on camera): So, this shooting happened in two different locations here on the campus, and both those locations, students left lots of stuff behind. There's now a process where they can begin to retrieve some of those things that they left behind that they are dealing with. Law enforcement will help get them. I can tell you, Wolf, today there are just tears everywhere in East Lansing and a real growing sense of anger. Wolf?


BLITZER: Yes, one of those locations, the Student Union there on the campus. Miguel Marquez, thank you very much.

Right now, we want to get more on how the people of East Lansing are coping and how the shooting investigation is unfolding. I want to bring in a top official who was attending the vigil for the victims tonight. That would be the Michigan attorney general, Dana Nessel. She's joining us live right now. Attorney General, thank you so much for joining us. Our hearts go out to the families of those who were murdered.

We can see the Michigan State University community gathering right where you are. How is the school community -- and I understand two of your own children are students there -- how are they doing in the wake of this deadly shooting?

DANA NESSEL, MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I mean, as well as can possibly be expected given the circumstances. I mean, people are coming together. People are trying to reach out to one another to comfort them and to know that they're cared for, to know that they're loved. But that doesn't go very far, unless and until we have the proper policies in place to make sure that something like this can never happen again.

And when parents send their kids to college, when I drop my kids off this year, I didn't send them here to be murdered. And, unfortunately, that's what is happening at schools all around the United States. And it's time for people who have just stood up here today, who are saying, enough is enough.

BLITZER: Yes, something has going to be done. I know you have said the shooter in this particular case should not have been able to purchase guns in your state of Michigan because he was a convicted felon. The state police told CNN today, and I'm quoting now, a misdemeanor conviction, such as possession of a loaded firearm in a vehicle would not prevent you from obtaining a purchase permit for a firearm. Can you clarify was this gun purchased legally?

NESSEL: Right. So, in terms of the weapon that was actually used during the course of these incidences, we don't know yet if it was purchased legally or not. But I will say this. Obviously, we don't even have universal back ground checks here in Michigan. We have very little in the way of legislation that would prevent a person from possessing a gun, owning a gun, coming into contact with a weapon for people who even we know should not have the opportunity to do that. And I have to say I think that's going to change very quickly.

As you know, we have had a change in the legislature here for the first time in some 40 years. I've been working just today with both the statehouse and senate, and I believe that's going to change very quickly and we're going to have a number of bills that are introduced, that I believe will pass and be signed by the governor. But we need to do as much as we possibly can because this situation cannot continue.

BLITZER: Let me follow up. Should this gunman, this killer, should he have been allowed to purchase a gun legally?

NESSEL: I believe he should not. This is an individual who, first of all, you know, had just been removed from probation. We know that during the period of time that he was on probation, it was extended. We're still not clear on why that was. And he had this very recent weapons offense.

It's clear that he was experiencing some sort of a mental health breakdown, that's from his own family members. We do so little to prevent people who are in that set of circumstances. I mean, somebody who is having mental health issues, somebody who just had been illegally possessing a gun, and look how easy it was for him to obtain a weapon, even in the wake of all that. Something has going to change.

BLITZER: Yes. Good point. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, our hearts are with you, with the entire community all the student there is at Michigan State University. Thanks so much for joining us and good luck in your effort.

NESSEL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Mike Pence reveals his justification for fighting a subpoena in the special counsel investigation of former President Donald Trump. But will it hold up in court?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Former Vice President Mike Pence is now speaking publicly about his plans to fight a subpoena from the U.S. Justice Department. He weighed in twice today, including some extended remarks just a little while ago.

CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider is joining us with details. So, Jessica, tell our viewers what he said.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Mike Pence simply didn't mince words today. He explained how his team had discussions with the Justice Department before the subpoena was issued. He said that his team was clear with DOJ officials that Pence would fight any subpoena on the grounds of the speech or debate clause of the Constitution. And the former vice president today really explained at length how his duties as president of the Senate on January 6th, in his view, precludes him from talking about his actions and discussions leading up to and on that day. Here he is.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I'm going to fight the Biden DOJ's subpoena for me to appear before the grand jury, because I believe it's unconstitutional and it's unprecedented. Never before in American history has a vice president been summoned to appear in court to testify against the president with whom they served.

President Trump was wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. And as I have said, I have spoken out over the last two years and written extensively about those days. I think President Trump's words were reckless and they endangered me and my family and others at the Capitol, and I'm not hesitated to say that.

That said, under the Constitution in this moment, I believe my duty is also clear, and that is the Constitution prohibits an executive branch from summoning anyone into court for their legislative actions or duties.


And on the day of January 6th, I was acting as president of the Senate, presiding over a joint session, described in the Constitution itself. And so I believe that that speech and debate clause of the Constitution actually prohibits the executive branch from compelling me to appear in a court as the Constitution says, or in any other place. And we'll stand on that principle and we'll take that case as far as it needs to go, if needs be to the Supreme Court of the United States.

I believe that would diminish the privileges enjoyed by any future vice president, be that Democrat or Republican. I simply will not do that.


SCHNEIDER: Now, Pence did acknowledge that he really has talked about this before. He wrote in his memoir about his interaction with former President Trump on the days leading up to January 6th, but he made clear he will not comply with that subpoena, he will not testify under oath about those same interactions, because as Pence he sees it, it would just set a bad precedent here.

But, Wolf, this position really could mean a long legal fight for the former vice president, just as he is considering whether to announce a run for president, something he hinted at in Iowa today. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, he did. All right, Jessica Schneider, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, CNN's Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig, he's also the author of the brand new book, very important book, very timely book, entitled, Untouchable, How Powerful People Get Away With It. Elie, congratulations on the book, once again, thanks very much for joining us. Give us your reaction to Pence's argument.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, first of all, this is a fascinating. This is like a law school hypothetical come into life. He actually does have some substance in this argument. There're really two questions. First of all, is he covered by the speech and debate clause? Constitution says that members of the Congress can be covered. Now, he was president of the Senate in his role as vice president and the courts have construed that broadly. They've actually said it can apply to congressional staffers, as well. So, I think it likely will apply to Mike Pence.

The second part, though is, will his testimony relate to his legislative duties? We just heard Mike Pence say everything I was doing that day was in my capacity as president of the Senate. I think the counterargument will be, to the extent you were involved in conversations with Donald Trump about crimes, that's not covered.

BLITZER: Do you think this fight could go all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court?

HONIG: Absolutely. And timing is going to be so important here. It will start at the district court, which is the trial court level. Whoever loses there can automatically appeal to the court of appeals. Whoever loses there will certainly try to take it to the Supreme Court. And, of course, it's up to the Supreme Court. But this kind of case is tailor-made for them.

BLITZER: So, when I hear that, what is the due to the timeline of this criminal investigation of the former president of the United States by the Justice Department special counsel?

HONIG: Timing is so important here, Wolf. We just heard about Mike Pence's political considerations. But from DOJ's perspective, there is no way, even if this case is super expedited, that it gets through all those layers we just talked about in anything less than four months, and probably more than that. Is DOJ willing and able to wait four months to get this testimony and then incorporate it? I mean, we're talking about a four, five, six or more months delay if they are going to fight for this.

BLITZER: Yes. I assume they will fight. But correct me if I'm wrong, over the years, the Justice Department has had certain success in fighting these arguments about executive privilege over the years, right?

HONIG: Yes, sure. Executive privilege usually ends up going in DOJ's favor. What's novel here, the twist is Mike Pence is using this obscure provision from Article I, the speech and debate clause.

Now, he's going to have a problem, and we just heard about this, because he has written about a lot of these conversations in his book. And so prosecutors, DOJ are going to argue you have waived it. You have given up that right. Once you talk about something publicly, you no longer have those protections. You no longer have the legal right to keep it secret.

BLITZER: And in his book he wrote extensively about those conversations.

HONIG: He did.

BLITZER: It will be an interesting legal battle. Thanks very much, Elie Honig, helping us appreciate what's going on.

Coming up, Nikki Haley's presidential campaign kickoff, what she is revealing about her strategy for going up against her fellow Republican and former boss, Donald Trump.



BLITZER: Republican Nikki Haley is giving us the first taste of her 2024 presidential campaign, holding a rally today in her home state of South Carolina.

CNN's Kylie Atwood, reports on Haley's message as the first candidate GOP candidate actually challenge Donald Trump.


FMR. GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R-SC): For a strong America, for a proud America, I am running for president of the United States of America.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Nikki Haley throwing her hat into the ring for the 2024 presidential race.

HALEY: We're ready. Ready to move past the steal ideas and faded names of the past.

ATWOOD: The proud daughter of Indian immigrants calling for a generational change in American politics.

HALEY: America is not past our prime, it's just that our politicians are past theirs.

ATWOOD: The twice elected governor of South Carolina turned 51 last month, even calling for a competency test for older politicians, which would include President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, now her rival for the GOP nomination.

HALEY: And mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.

ATWOOD: She detailed her vision for America's future and for the direction of the Republican Party.

HALEY: We've lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. [18:25:00]

Our cause is right, but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans. Well, that ends today.

ATWOOD: As the former ambassador to the United Nations, she focused in on the threat from China, too.

HALEY: It is unthinkable that Americans would look at the sky and see a Chinese spy balloon looking back at us.

ATWOOD: Highlighting her identity as a woman of color, she waded into the culture wars animating her party, her claiming that America is not a racist country.

HALEY: This self-loathing is a virus more dangerous than any pandemic. It's a system of a lack of pride in our country and a lack of trust in our leaders.

ATWOOD: If her bid is successful, Haley would be the first woman and the first Asian-American, nominated by the Republican Party for president.

HALEY: This is not the America that called to my parents. And make no mistake this is not the America I will leave to my children.

ATWOOD: With her announcement, Haley is the first major Republican challenger to Trump, who has criticized her decision to enter the 2024 fray despite saying he encouraged her to run.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I said look, you know, go by your heart if you want to run.

ATWOOD: For her part, Haley, only mentioned Trump once in her speech today, with the two likely to be joined soon by other Republican hopefuls in the coming months.

HALEY: As I set out on this new journey, I will simply say this, may the best woman win.


ATWOOD (on camera): Wolf, there was really a little bit of something for everyone in this speech from Nikki Haley today, clearly a crafted message to try and attract a wide swath of the Republican electorate.

When it comes to the other Republican hopefuls, they're already beginning to lean in, even though they haven't officially declared that they're getting into the race. Tomorrow here in Charleston, South Carolina, it will be Senator Tim Scott, also from South Carolina, and today in Iowa, the former vice president, Mike Pence, is there, and he said that Nikki Haley may soon have company in this race soon. Wolf?

BLITZER: Things are beginning to heat up. Kylie Atwood on the scene for us in South Carolina, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our political correspondents and our commentators. And, Dana Bash, I'll start with you. Did Nikki Haley meet the moment today?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she certainly, as Kylie was saying, gave a speech that ran the gamut in terms of her biography, in terms of where she says she wants America to go. She tried to give a hopeful message while certainly giving some nods to what she understands is the Republican base right now.

But the only way to answer your question is to understand what that moment is right now in the Republican Party. And I don't think anybody really has a handle on that. And by that, I mean, first of all, the generational argument. That was a big, big part of her push in several different ways. She made note of the fact that she is much younger than -- she didn't say Donald Trump's name but it was clear she had it to for Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

But it is unclear whether this is a moment that the Republican electorate is ready to break from Donald Trump, is ready to take on the maybe more traditional foreign policy ideas that she put forward and other things that are really still shaking out when it comes to the identity of the Republican Party. Is it still the party of Donald Trump?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And I think, Wolf, the timing here is really important. I mean, Nikki Haley is not going to be the only candidate in this race making a generational argument, but now she is the first. And I think that she's trying to really get out front on a lot of these issues by basically arguing, and this is what you'll hear from people close to her, her entire political biography has involved taking on the sort of this entrenched establishment, the good old boys, so to speak. And that is, as Dana said, a double barreled argument, both against Trump and against President Biden.

But for Haley, the challenge is going to be what happens later. As Pence indicated today, she's not going to be the only person challenging Trump in the race for long. So at some point, there has to be more that's there to really differentiate herself from other candidates.

And I think at the moment, this speech today didn't really give me a clear sense of what that would look like for her. I think she avoided some real significant issues that Republicans are talking about elsewhere. CRT, you know, what they're teaching in the classrooms, et cetera, and I think it makes me wonder how else is she going to create a lane for herself. Because she will not be the only candidate arguing that there needs to be a new generation. Take Ron DeSantis, for example, who I believe is actually a little bit younger than her, as well.

BLITZER: You know, Michael Smerconish, she was not openly critical of Trump today but she did take some veiled swipes that weren't even all that veiled. What did you make of that strategy?


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, let me say that I thought the rollout went as well as it could have gone. She's obviously smart, she's very good on her feet, and she's got a uniquely American story to tell.

But to Abby's point and to Dana's point, I don't know where the lane is. I think her fate is going to be determined by the Fulton County D.A., the Manhattan D.A., and probably Jack Smith and Merrick Garland. She needs Donald Trump and/or Ron DeSantis to implode, because if Trump's at 45 to 50 and if DeSantis is at 25 to 30, there's just not enough oxygen in the tent for anybody else. So, she gets in, makes a great appearance and I think bides her time to see which way those investigations go. Not wanting to take Trump on too much, to answer your question, but to set down a marker that she is willing to fight him, if need be.

BLITZER: Very important. Mondaire, she pointed out that your Democratic Party has won the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. Did you hear anything today that made you concerned she might be the Republican who changes that?

MONDAIRE JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, in a normal world, in a Republican Party that preexisted Donald Trump, Nikki Haley would be, I think, a favorite to capture the nomination in that party and to be formidable in a general election, which she still would be, by the way, I think, up against Joe Biden.

She's got an inspiring life story. She's charismatic on the stump. She's got a great credential more recently in the foreign policy space, which a lot of governors don't typically obtain prior to running for president of the United States.

However, I couldn't help but think to myself the main reason why Republicans have lost seven of the eight past popular vote counts is due to the fact that so many of the policies that they push forward, especially in the area of economics, are not popular with the American people. And I have seen nothing in today's speech to differentiate her to chart a new path forward in that regard.

Ultimately, this is rather -- this is about whether Donald Trump is going to be the primary, because we know there are going to be multiple Republican opponents, and she's not going to be able to win that nomination so long if she's competing against Donald Trump and a bunch of other people on the Republican side.

BLITZER: You know, Dana, shifting gears a little bit, CNN is learning that the embattled Republican congressman, George Santos, get this, is actually considering running for re-election despite multiple probes into his various lies. Is this becoming an even bigger nightmare for his Republican Party?

BASH: It's hard to imagine it a bigger nightmare for his party than it is now. What the Republican leadership says that they are -- privately that they are banking on is this kind of working itself out, maybe not the House Ethics Committee, most likely in the court. If he really is in the kind of trouble, say, with campaign finance situations, and others that he finds himself in, allegations against him, then it will likely work itself out before they get to that point.

But that could take a while, Wolf. And in the meantime, he's still very public. And we have new information and allegations coming out every single day, and there's no question Republicans see this as a big distraction.

PHILLIP: Yes. And, I mean, look, George Santos clearly has no sense of shame whatsoever in any of this. So, it doesn't surprise me that he's putting this on the table. But at the same time, you know, that decision might be made for him. Unless he comes up with another $700,000, $800,000 out of thin air to finance his own campaign, I'm not sure that there's going to be a whole lot of support for him running again.

And you can't just do this with no money in your pocket. I think he's going to have some support and he's going to have a lot of people working to make sure that he isn't re-elected again as another United States congressman from New York.

BLITZER: How do you see it, Michael?

SMERCONISH: It will be a test case for something that we saw in the midterm, which was there were candidates on both sides of the aisle who had deficiencies. But in the general, they received the support of their party because of the tribalism and this idea that, well, our guy is not great, but we don't want the opposition.

I mean, if he gets through a primary, and I can't see that happening, but if he got through a primary, I think a lot of Republicans would look at the opposition and say, well, we don't like Santos, but we're going to pull the lever for him anyway.

PHILLIP: But just keep in mind, Wolf, this is still a Biden-leaning district.

BLITZER: Yes, it is.

PHILLIP: So, he's not in a district that is heavily Republican, he's going to have a real fight on his hands.

BLITZER: Yes. It's out in Long Island, Nassau County, but part of the district is in Queens in New York City as well. All right, guys, thanks very, very much.

Just ahead, federal safety officials open a new investigation into a very disturbing airline incident as the acting head of the FAA faces questions from Congress about a series of aviation failures and very close calls.



BLITZER: Tonight, federal safety investigators are starting to look into the third series of close calls on runways here in the United States. This comes as Congress is investigating very serious problems with airlines and the overall aviation industry.

CNN's Gabe Cohen is covering it all for us. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. First, tell us about this new investigation, Gabe, by the National Transportation Safety Board.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, Wolf, this latest incursion happened in Honolulu January 23rd. And here's what the FAA is telling us happened. They say that a United 777 crosses a runway despite being told not to by air traffic control, right as a small cargo plane was landing on that very same runway.


Now, the FAA says the two aircraft were a little more than a thousand feet apart, but now the NTSB is investigating, as you mentioned, Wolf.

And the news comes as the acting head of FAA was on Capitol Hill today facing tough questions from lawmakers.


COHEN (voice over): A series of system meltdowns and near disasters.

BILLY NOLEN, FAA ACTING ADMINISTRATOR: We cannot and must not become compliment.

COHEN: Landing the FAA'S Acting Administrator, Billy Nolen, in front of a Senate committee just hours after announcing a sweeping safety review for the agency.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D-WA): We have a backup redundant system. Why couldn't we just go to that system?

NOLEN: Thank you, Madam Chair, for the question.

COHEN: One focus, the NOTAMS system that failed last month, triggering the first national ground-stop since 9/11. The cause, a contractor accidently deleting files during system maintenance.

NOLEN: They no longer have access to FAA facilities or the NOTAMS system.

COHEN: The FAA says, it's moving to a more modernized system by 2025, and for now it's putting safeguards to prevent a repeat.

NOLEN: We're now halfway through it in terms of our modernization of the NOTAMS system.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Is there a redundancy being built into it or can a single screw up ground air traffic nationwide?

NOLEN: We do have redundancy there. Could I sit here today and tell you, there will never be another issue on the NOTAMS system? No, Sir, I cannot. What I can say is that we are making every effort to modernize and look at our procedures. COHEN: But now, aviation safety is under the microscope after two near-collisions at JFK and Austin, and a United 777 diving toward the ocean after takeoff from Hawaii, for reasons the FAA and United are keeping confidential. Administrator Nolen offering little on the incidents themselves.

CANTWELL: I'm asking if you have an answer today about why this occurred.

NOLEN: No, ma'am. That investigation is still ongoing.

COHEN: And now the FAA is planning an extensive safety review of the agency, including a summit with industry partners next month to game plan solutions and then dig through flight data to find out if more of these incidents are happening.

NOLEN: Can I say to the America public that we are safe? Answer is that we are. If the question is can we be better? The answer, absolutely, and that's the piece we're working on.


COHEN (on camera): And it's important to note that with this latest incursion that we're learning about the two aircraft never came as close to colliding as in those two incidents at JFK and Austin, and neither of them had to actually abort. But, Wolf, it's just adding to this long list of troubling incidents that sparked this upcoming safety review by the FAA.

BLITZER: It's causing a lot of concerns, especially those of us who fly a lot. Thanks very much, Gabe Cohen, reporting, I appreciate it.

Let's go to Ohio right now, where residents who live near the scene of a toxic train wreck are getting ready to attend a town hall. Many are very concerned about the risks to their health nearly two weeks after that train derailment.

CNN National Correspondent Jason Carroll is on the scene for us in East Palestine. Jason, there's been a last-minute development, I understand, with the train company backing out of the town hall.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf. That was one of voices that people here wanted to definitely pose a lot of questions to. Right now, there are hundreds of people standing in line here at East Palestine High School waiting to get inside, waiting to ask questions of both the EPA and others who will be in attendance.

Also, we have an update on water testing here in East Palestine. According to the state EPA, new test results show that the municipal water, according to their test results, is safe to drink. So, that will certainly be some encouraging news to people who have been waiting for some word and drinking bottled water over the past few days.

Also, we should tell you that just in terms of talking to people on the ground, they feel like there's been a lack of information here on the ground. I spoke to one woman in particular who said in her neighborhood, she lives just a block from the derailment, she said she couldn't get simple answers from workers in her neighborhood.


TANGIE MOHRBACHER, EAST PALESTINE, OHIO RESIDENT: We passed all the creeks, and there's crew after crew with white hoses and black hoses all through the creeks. They're not telling us why and this is daily. I'm driving my children to school past all of this and they're asking questions that I don't have answers to.


CARROLL: Again, a lot of folks who are showing up here tonight hoping they will finally get some of those answers.

In terms of Norfolk Southern, and, again, this is the rail company responsible for the derailment, they pulled out, Wolf, at the 11th hour, sent the following statement, I'll read it to you in part. It says, we know that many are rightfully angry and frustrated right now. Unfortunately, after consulting with community leaders, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees. With that in mind, Norfolk Southern will not be in attendance this evening. That is certainly going to be a disappointment to many who were here tonight.



BLITZER: All right, Jason Carroll, reporting for us, thanks very much.

Coming up, we'll go live to Turkey where rescuers are still pulling survivors from the earthquake's rubble. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is now on the scene for us. He's watching the urgent humanitarian aid efforts unfold in Turkey.


BLITZER: Tonight, critical rescue and relief efforts are intensifying in Turkey as survivors are miraculously still being saved from the rubble well over a week after the region's catastrophic earthquake.

CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is now on the scene for us at Adana, Turkey.

Sanjay, you've covered a lot of these earthquakes over the years. What are you seeing there?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you say, Wolf, we're still very much in rescue and relief mode. I mean, if you were listening during the day, the skies are buzzing with helicopters, most of them doing search and rescue, but also trying to provide aid to areas of the country that are just really hard hit and sort of isolated, hard to get to.


The roads are either impassable or you can't get big trucks through them. So the helicopters are providing a lot of that work.

All the donations that are coming in from all over the world, they come to the air strip and then they go out. Wolf, there's also these hospital ships which are something that we have seen after a lot of these natural disasters. Hospitals get destroyed as well, Wolf. So the hospital ships provide these immediate beds, those immediate resources.

But also, Wolf, there were so many aftershocks that were happening on the ground that having a hospital in the water could buffer you against some of the damage from those aftershocks. So that's ongoing, Wolf.

BLITZER: Amid all this suffering that you're seeing over there, there are still some really remarkable stories of survival. Tell us about that.

GUPTA: Yeah. I mean, you typically think after a few days, Wolf, in the conditions, it's below freezing, the people would survive that long is quite extraordinary. And we've been trying to ascertain, how is it possible in terms of the conditions, water, air, things like that?

Huseyin Berber was rescued 180 hours after the earthquake. And he had a chance to describe how he was able to get through that. Take a listen.


HUSEYIN BERBER, EARTHQUAKE SURVIVOR (through translator): I've got diabetes, you see. So, more important than food, there was some medication in the cabinet and a bottle of water. They all fell down next to me. I swallowed some medication with the water. The bottle was empty.

So what to do? Now this is a bit embarrassing. I urinated into it, and then I would drink it. That's the way I managed to survive.


GUPTA: That's, you know, wolf, you heard it, that's what it took for him to survive. You hear lots of stories like that. I heard a story of a baby who was hurdled from the window just as the building collapsed. They thought the baby had died, just 8 months old. But she survived after a five-story fall, was brought to a hospital, and is also doing well.

BLITZER: Thank God for that.

All right. Sanjay, we'll stay in very close touch with you. Thanks so much. And to our viewers, to learn how you can help the victims in both

Turkey and Syria, go to, and help impact your world.

We'll have more news just ahead, including tensions boiling over in the courtroom where the Buffalo supermarket mass shooter was sentenced today.



BLITZER: The gunman who killed 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket in 2022 will spend the rest of his life in prison. Victims' families confronting him during an emotional and gut-wrenching sentencing hearing earlier today in Buffalo.

CNN's Brian Todd is following the story for us.

Brian, there was one moment in particular where tensions clearly boiled over.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. The emotions were so raw in this hearing today, the feelings of anger still so fresh that they did lead to a moment that almost got out of control.


BARBARA MASSEY MAPPS, SISTER OF BUFALLO VICTIM KATHERINE MASSEY: We're never going to know neighborhoods that take people out. Don't do it --

TODD (voice-over): A victim's relative rushes the Buffalo shooter in court, prevented from getting to him by officers who then lead the gunman away. A striking moment during a hearing full of them, relatives of the Tops supermarket shooting victims gave impact statements at his sentencing.

WAYNE JONES, SON OF BUFFALO VICTIM CELESTINE CHANEY: Thinking about what a beautiful person you took.

TODD: The niece of 62-year-old victim Geraldine Talley says despite the shooter's hatred of Black people.

TAMIKA HARPER, NIECE OF BUFFALO VICTIM GERALDINE TALLEY: Do I want you to die? No. I want you to stay alive. I want you to think about this every day of your life.

JUDGE SUSAN EAGAN, ERIE COUNTY, NEW YORK: Mr. Gendron, please stand.

TODD: The judge sentenced the shooter to life in prison without parole.

EAGAN: You will never see the light of day as a free man ever again.

TODD: He had earlier pleaded guilty on state charges to killing 10 people and wounding three others in the attack last May. Moments before the man tried to get at him in court, the sister of 72-year-old victim Katherine Massey let out her fury on the gunman.

MAPPS: I want to personally choke you, to see my fingers on your neck. Didn't hurt anybody! You decide you don't like Black people. You don't know a damn thing about Black people. We're human.

TODD: Simone Crowley, granddaughter of 86-year-old victim Ruth Whitfield, said her family feels sorry for the shooter.

SIMONE CROWLEY, GRANDDAUGHTER OF BUFFALO VICTIM RUTH WHITIFELD: We all know that pure hatred and motivations behind your heinous crime and we are here to tell you that you failed.


TODD: The gunman himself apologized to the victims' relatives.

GENDRON: I don't want anyone to be inspired by me and what I did.

TODD: But his words couldn't resonate like those of the daughter of 53-year-old Andre Mackniel who said her father had gone to the Tops store that day to buy a birthday cake for her little brother who was turning 3.

DEJA BROWN, DAUGHTER OF BUFFALO VICTIM ANDRE MACKNIEL: I'm pissed and I'm sad and I hate you, and I did think I would be strong enough to look you in the face and tell you this and how much you hurt me, my little brother, who's 3 years old and got to grow up without his dad.

TODD: A former superior court judge says victims' relatives often find catharsis in these statements.

JUDGE GREGORY MIZE (RET.), FORMER SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: Some people have kept it inside for so long that seeing what the impact of this crime was on me is a release, is a pressure cooker valve. Other times, this is the last thing I want to visit again.


TODD: This sentence wag for state charges the gunman had faced. He also faces federal hate crimes charges, some of which could carry the death penalty if the Justice Department decides to seek that. Those charges are still pending -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us -- Brian, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.